Is masculinity toxic? It is a seemingly popular thing to say, these days.
What about our boys? What are they to make of it?
How are we supposed to make sense of the idea that the gender roles which come naturally to most boys is their primary problem?
Here is the thing. If a person is toxic, we can't just blame their gender. Let's be honest, both boys and girls have unique abilities to be wretched creatures. Ourselves included. You CAN blame poor character, a lack of discipline, bad manners, and probably a host of other stuff, none of which are gender specific.
Neither gender has a claim on toxicity, because it is a human problem, not a masculinity problem.I recall growing up with a few females in my midst who exhibited some of the bulliest of bullying behaviors. There. I said it. These girls were toxic, for certain.
I did a little homework for us, and this Atlantic article from February 2019 was very informative.
Apparently the term toxic masculinity originates back in the 1980's and 1990's, and was not a feminist directed movement at the outset. To my best understanding, it began as a men's movement to separate the unhealthy caricature of "machismo" from a healthy, warrior-type masculinity, which was in response to the interest of feminist groups wanting to feminize men. I thought this was really interesting.
The popular term/concept we are generally familiar with is apparently a bastardized version, and has been politically weaponized it for purposes unintended from its (I think laudable) origins.
I imagine that whomever co-opted the term after its original definition probably had the best of intentions (giving the benefit of the doubt here), but you know how that trope goes... the road to hell is paved with them.
The interest to make women equal, which was has somehow morphed into make them "more than," and that has caused a seismic shift in how boys (and men) are being treated in our current culture. And not in a positive way.
Obviously, growing up with a father and grandfathers or uncles and close male family friends who loved and cared for you deeply (and did so well) is a critical element for boys learning how to become Men (and for girls to recognize what makes a GOOD man) and to exhibit masculinity in its best forms.
And I say forms on purpose, because clearly there is a wide range of what is masculine.
For example, there is nuance to being able to determine whether responding to the bully with a punch in the nose is the right answer, or standing up to defend someone else's honor when they are being picked on, even if it means putting yourself in the middle of a fight.
Do we still esteem these things? Are we teaching our boys to esteem these? Boys are expected to grow intellectually, but without the sentiment of heart and strong moral compass needed to guide them.
Think about it. If there is no real right and wrong, if everything is relative (except for relativism, OF COURSE. RELATIVISM is ABSOLUTELY TRUE-- wink wink), then boys cannot be expected to become Men Who Wield their Masculinity Well.
C.S. Lewis saw this nearly a century ago, and wrote about it in his book, The Abolition of Man:
"We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful."
Sanzi's characterization of the "awfulization of boys" being so damaging is right on. She hits the nail on the head, and having a couple of boys of my own I know she is correct. I think the core problem is this: attributing the absence of virtue in these modern men to masculinity. And therefore if we could just coerce boys to be more like girls, we could avoid the cultural chaos and problems that we see with some men when they are adults?
That's not to say that moms cannot teach boys; they do it all of the time. But if so much more is "caught" than "taught," we can recognize that it is a tremendous loss for a boy to not have these positive male influences, and I think as a society we recognize that void when we see boys growing up without it. The void shows itself in many different ways--economic, behavioral, academic...the list goes on of ways in which the lack of a father in the home is detrimental to children. And maybe especially boys.
Do most men feel this? Do they see it this way and are willing to say so?
Or are their voices being drowned out by fear of being publicly shamed for being toxically masculine by radical feminists?
Or corporate policies that make it so you should not share your opinion with anyone other than your immediate family?
If that is the case, we know that this problem can only grow unchecked, to the great detriment of our boys.
Just some Thursday thoughts for you...
I would love to hear what you think. Feel free to weigh in on the topic either in the comments below or on the Facebook page!
xo, Ann Marie